** NOTE ** This article has been updated with a video, shown below.
The parachute post on your size-twelve March Brown dances down-current. The fly drifts in harmony with the surrounding bubbles that were formed fifty feet upstream, where the river rolls over the riffle and begins widening into this shady flat.
Dressed with a dose of silicone floatant and tied slightly over-hackled, the fly seems nimble, even as the parachute style allows for a full-body contact with the surface of the water. The air trapped between the hackles acts as a life raft, supporting the tail and body tied to the hook below. It’s a good design.
When the s-curves in your leader finally run out, the fly starts a slow skate across the surface, and your dead drift is over. Now, if you could somehow go out to your fly and simply pluck it directly off the surface, it would make no disturbance on the water at all. (And the fly could stay dry all day long if picked up that way.) Instead the fly is attached to a leader that is partially stuck to the water’s surface. Same with the fly line. And wherever that line and leader go next, so too does the fly.
Your next move is critical for both a stealthy presentation and for keeping the fly dry enough to ride high on the next drift.
You need a pre-cast pickup. Here’s the video, followed by a thorough breakdown in the paragraphs that follow.
(Please select 4K or 1080p for best video quality)
It doesn’t matter how modern your fly line is, with its impregnated air bubbles, its super slick finish or it’s shark-skin texture. It still sinks into the surface, and it wants to stay there. As soon as the line touches the water it starts forming some kind of scientific bond — most of us just call this surface tension.
Same goes for the leader.
(Yes, greasing the leader or the line does help. So, do that too. But it does not eliminate this issue.)
If you have the experience of more than even a handful of days on the water with dry flies, you don’t need me to explain this. But, the longer the line lays on the water, the more surface tension builds up. Likewise, the more line you have on the water, the harder it is to pick up the leader, the line and the fly without causing disturbance on the surface or dragging the fly underneath.
Have you ever heard this noise from the fly as you start the backcast? It’s a dead giveaway that some adjustments should be made.
You need a pre-cast pickup.
Sometimes, part of the leader or the tip of the fly line falls under the surface during the drift. And when you start your cast, that line and leader drags the tippet under the water an inch or two. The fly follows. It dunks under the water, and it’s pulled back out — with speed — on its way toward your backcast loop. That’s where the pop comes from.
The pop is an extreme expression of this common casting problem. It signals the worst. But many more casts are made with the line, leader and fly dragging quickly across the surface, without a sound but likely spooking feeding fish. Compounding the trouble, water is also forced into the dry, making the next drift less efficient.
The solution is an artful activation of the fly line and leader.
The pre-cast is a simple motion that lifts some (or all) of the fly line off the water and gets the leader moving. It’s an elegant solution to a difficult issue.
A pre-cast pickup can be performed in a hundred ways and at just as many angles. It’s not difficult, and variations abound. The currents, streamside obstructions and wind all dictate what the best move is for a pre-cast. And so do the whims of the angler, because there is no best way. Simply get the fly line moving and lifting off the water with a pre-cast, and then fire off a nice crisp back cast.
The pre-cast pickup is very much like a mend. And right after that motion, the backcast follows.
Understand this point: There is no lag. The pre-cast is followed by the backcast without pause. It is fluid.
Try pre-casting as a reach mend and then back cast. Try it with the motion of a stack mend and then back cast. Try roll casting to the fly and then back cast. All of these are great ways to form a pre-cast. Experiment and find your way.
Again, when the dry fly drift is over, simply activate the line and get it moving before starting the backcast. The motion of the pre-cast breaks the hold of surface tension. And that’s the key. Once the surface lets go of the line, it is easily lifted off the water with minimal disturbance.
A good pre-cast can pluck the dry fly off the surface, looking like it has simply lifted and flown away. At a distance, that might seem like a magic trick. But it’s easy to perform. Get the fly line moving and lifting with the pre-cast, and then go seamlessly into a quick backcast.
Remember, if you start your next dry fly cast without lifting the line off the surface first, the line drags the leader and the fly across the water or under it. Neither of these options is any good.
Learn the motions of a pre-cast pickup. Trust yourself. And make it happen.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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